Poinsettias will replace cornucopias

Happy Thanksgiving week!

This celebration grew out of the historic tradition of harvest festivals as we store, celebrate and give thanks for the last harvest and prepare for the winter season ahead. In Oklahoma gardening that means transitioning from the pretty fall colors on the trees to the dormancy and hibernation of winter, leaving the evergreens to star in our winter landscapes.

Most Okies got their first real freeze in recent days putting an end to most of our vegetable and annual flowering crops for another year. We are now in the season of pansies, ornamental kale and cabbage, planting spring flowering bulbs and ready to enjoy the beauty of poinsettias. Pumpkins, squash, corn and a cornucopia of other vegetable crops produced in the recent season are the horticultural image of Thanksgiving.

Poinsettias have become the horticultural icon of the Christmas season and we are already seeing a few decorate retail malls, businesses and homes. After Thanksgiving they will go on display everywhere to help announce the Christmas season and put us in good cheer. Historically poinsettias are a pretty recent addition to the Christmas party. They were discovered by U.S. Ambassador and avid gardener Joel Poinsett in Mexico, our southern neighbor, during his time there as our Ambassador. He sent the first plants back to the United States in 1828 and just since that time it has gone from Euphorbia pulcherrima, a pretty wildflower to become the Christmas flower in the United States. Now poinsettias are widely recognized and enjoyed worldwide with the Christmas season.

In just my lifetime, there have been tremendous changes in poinsettia breeding so that the poinsettias stay colorful for much longer and are available in many more colors and flower styles. As a boy, I remember the first poinsettias went on sale in mid December and stayed colorful for just a few weeks. Today varieties often stay colorful all the way up into February, March or even May if well cared for. The varieties of my youth had 1 flower per stem and were 2’ to 5’ tall so to get 3 flowers in a pot there had to be 3 plants, for 5 flowers in a large pot required 5 plants. The new varieties we use today are naturally shorter, respond well to growth regulators to produce short full plants and with a pinch of the terminal or center shoot early in the crop they produce many flowers on a single pinched plant.

The colorful part of the poinsettia we enjoy in the many tones of red, pink, white or marbled combinations of these colors is actually the “bract” or flower holder. The real flowers or cyathia are small yellow clusters above the center of the colored leaves or bracts we enjoy and often call the flower. The Aztecs in Mexico used their cuitlaxochitl, our poinsettia, to produce red dye and antipyretic medicine before Joel Poinsett introduced this plant to early Americans.

Please take time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with your family and slip away from the turkey and football long enough to meditate and show thanks for the great growing season we have just completed and the family, friends and many blessings we enjoy in our daily lives. After Thanksgiving it will really be time to put out the Poinsettias and prepare for Christmas, the Season of Giving.

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